Studio profile: Crispin Finn

Anna Fidalgo, one half of the London-based design and illustration duo reveals how getting an agent has helped them to establish a new studio

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A lot of designers don’t like talking about the client work that pays the bills, preferring to focus on personal work…

I don’t really understand why people would be so against talking about basically what pays their bills – it’s not like we’re hit men or anything. Of course the personal work is what people identify with and which then leads on to commercial projects. It was five years of self-initiated projects that led us to have an agent, Siobhan Squire, for commercial work. We first spoke to Siobhan just after our solo show at Beach London last December and then started to get a portfolio of work together which took several weeks to select images and have the books fabricated for us. Our books are also transported in custom red, white and blue bags too so by the time they were ready and everything was up on Siobhan’s website and a mailout sent out it was the beginning of April 2012

How soon did your agent land you a commercial job?

Our first job came about three weeks later – a campaign for Vodafone Ireland.

What was the fee?

After commission, about £18,000

And what did you do with that money?

It’s a lot of money, but we’d invested around £3K in the portfolios and promotional mailers, plus the time in getting everything made before we had our first job come through. We invested the majority of what was left into setting up our own screenprinting studio, (buying all our own equipment and re-locating studios) then making new prints, getting new printing frames made… we put pretty much all of it back into Crispin Finn. We also replaced our broken mobile phones, replaced our slow computer – practical needs like that which were well overdue.

You’ve made your name through your own products and self-initiated projects. But you don’t feel that the commercial work you’re now getting through your agent is a ‘dirty secret’?

Not at all. We’re really happy about being commissioned. We were hoping to show you and tell you about our biggest commercial project to date but actually it’s the client in this case, rather than us, that doesn’t want us to talk about or show the work because it hasn’t gone live yet. We love briefs and visual problem solving which is what we consider commercial work to be. We also admire people like David Gentlemen who just live for work, whether it is paid, commissioned or self-initiated – it all falls into the same category for us. We work late and most weekends, whether on our own projects or meeting deadlines for clients and we absolutely love it. In fact, we generally don’t really say no to anything if we feel it has potential for us and providing, of course, we have time to do it. And not all the work we’ve got through our agent has been advertising work. We did some work for the V&A which was decently paid and an absolute dream client for us.

You mentioned a job to us that you said you won’t be putting in your portfolio. What happened there?

Once in a while we might get contacted to work on something where the choice to use us hasn’t been carefully considered – ie what the client is after isn’t something we could naturally produce. Since doing a project like that a few months ago, we’ve learned to turn things down if we think we can’t bring something special within our broad aesthetic to the work required.

Can you ever see yourselves worried by the idea that working with a particular client might damage your credibility?

No, we don’t feel that our credibility would be damaged by a project we’ve said yes to. Hopefully if the project goes well everyone ends up with a final result that they are happy with.

Are there any clients or type of clients that you flat out wouldn’t work for, like a tobacco company or something?

That’s an interesting one. We’ve only turned down one client on the basis that we felt opposed to its ‘message’. But thankfully, so far, we’ve not been put into too many situations where we’ve had to deeply question the morality of the client.

See more of Crispin Finn’s work at Siobhan Squire represents a range of photographers and illustrators. See